APPEALING TO THE MINDS OF YOUTH
Too often, we assume that our youth are mental midgets who secretly long for a Crayola crayon whenever we present a deep thought. True, some youth devote their entire mental faculty to choosing a new Spring outfit. And their greatest contribution to the world may be to inspire blonde jokes. But I feel that youth are generally much brighter than we assume. Some successfully study Physics and Algebra during the week and frankly tire of your booger jokes. Others may flunk Math but run straight home after school to work on rebuilding their complex car engine. Still others lay awake nights, wondering how a God of love could have allowed their parents to separate. Many of these starve for lack of solid food, but we keep dishing out the Coke and donut holes, terrified by the possibility of boring a shallow thinker with a challenging thought.
Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft) read the entire World Book Encyclopedia by the age of nine. As an eighth grader, he had such a thirst for programming computers (personal computers weren�t around at the time) that he hacked his way into a company computer system to get free time. Imagine a middle school Gates visiting your eighth grade Bible class the day you are building a mobile. Some of your youth probably feel as he would have felt.
Don�t forget, God wants us to love Him, not only with our affections, but with all our minds (Mt. 22:37). How can we not only impart wisdom, but inspire wisdom seekers, who seek wisdom as they would search for hidden treasures (Prov. 2:2-5)?
Firing a Passion for Wisdom in Students
Model a passion for seeking wisdom. Do you want your youth to drink from a fresh, flowing stream, or a stagnant pool? Wisdom-seeking is easier caught than taught. Are you hot after wisdom? Here are some ideas:
- Develop a long-range, systematic plan of Bible study>. Have you ever read the entire Bible? Set a goal for this coming year. Do you systematically memorize Scripture? The Navigators Topical Memory System would be a great place to start.
- Set reading goals. A large percentage of people never read an entire book following high school. Of those who do read, many never venture beyond romance novels. James Dobson�s father used to vary his reading between different disciplines. Medicine now, Psychology later, etc. Start with your personal interests and needs, but occasionally force yourself outside these areas to broaden yourself. Do you need to understand money management? Digest Larry Burkett and others. Is your marriage mediocre, or worse? Desperately seek wisdom from the experts. As you grow in wisdom, you will grasp many fresh illustrations for your youth, and they will catch your zeal for seeking wisdom.
- Set aside time for study. A missionary tried to set up an appointment with a man in Eastern Europe. He suggested a time, but the man replied, "I�m sorry. That�s during my reading time." "My what?!!" most American�s would react. Apparently this man realized the importance of setting aside and jealously guarding his time for acquiring wisdom.
- Avoid time wasters. You�ll never become wise watching hours of television every day. For TV addicts, start by replacing a ball game per week with a book. Or, take off a 30 minute show per day. If you start going through severe withdrawal, either cure the urge by applying a four-way lug wrench to your set, or keep a broken remote control in your pocket and punch the station button each time you flip a page.
- Redeem stray moments throughout the day. Finding myself stranded at Wal-Mart with a seasoned shopper, I pulled out paper and pen, scanned the magazine rack, and mined about eight superb illustrations from an article about basketball super coach Pat Riley. (Then, being the cheapskate that I am, I placed the magazine back on the rack and never bought it.)
- I never leave home without a book. While running taxi service for my boys, I often salvage 10 minutes of reading while waiting for soccer practice to end. Borrow cassette tapes from your church library or your public library. Invest in a set of the New Testament on tape, or the entire Bible, in your favorite version. During a 30 minute round trip commute to work or school every day, you can get through the entire New Testament rather quickly. (And it beats listening to that talk show host who pulls out a gem of wisdom on the average of once a month.)
- Seek out wise counsel. When Bible teacher Dan Dehaan married into a sizeable estate, he needed wisdom on investing. So he promptly set up weekly lunches with successful businessmen, to soak up their wisdom. He also loved to find when godly Christians had a layover at the Atlanta airport, or needed a ride somewhere, so that he could ask questions and grow in wisdom. It�s no surprise that Dehaan�s home bible study group grew to around 2000 people meeting every Tuesday night. He wasn�t teaching from a stagnant pool.
Always give direction to those who want more. "In today's lesson I�ve just skimmed the surface. If you want to dig deeper, you�ve just got to read More Than a Carpenter. I�ve got copies on the bookshelf in the back of the youth room that you can either check out or purchase."
Let them in on the consequences of your wise and foolish decisions. Failure is a wonderful teacher, but it will be less costly for your students if they can learn from your failures rather than solely their own.
Enthusiastically tell them what you are currently reading>. "As I read this Larry Burkett book on managing my money, it occurred to me that this is exactly what we�re talking about on Wednesday nights." Remember, many parents never read. For some of your youth, you may be their only adult mentor in this regard.
While teaching, actually hold up books that you draw illustrations or information from.
Let youth hold you accountable for scripture memory, daily devotions, or other reading goals. They will probably want you to mutually keep them accountable.
Learn from your students. Treat them as respected resources into youth culture and their particular areas of interest.
Encourage good questions. Wise does not equal "know-it-all." If a student stumps you with a good question, respond, "frankly, no one�s ever asked me that question before. And very frankly, I have no clue as to how to respond. Can anyone else here help me answer this insightful question? Give me a week to do some research and I�ll get back to you next week." How does this response make the student feel? Will this encourage further interaction?
Show sincere enthusiasm over what God is teaching you through His Word. A wise, old professor named Buck Hatch had taught the Prophets for decades. Wouldn�t you expect that the twentieth time through Jeremiah would bore him to tears? Not a chance. It deeply affected me when he�d say, "I was reading this in Jeremiah last night, and it just never struck me like this before!" As you can imagine, his enthusiasm was contagious. A youth ministry mentor used to tell me, "Steve, if you want youth to get excited about something, you be crazy about it. If you want them to bleed, you�ve got to hemorrhage!"
Enlist youth as researchers. I asked a ninth grader to help me research a dating series. Several middle schoolers helped me research a book on music during their summer break. We would drive to a theological library and they�d research their hearts out. Then, I�d buy them submarine sandwiches and throw frisbees on the campus lawn. The ninth-grader has since earned a graduate degree in Bible and serves a church as minister of education. The middle schoolers loved to read C.S. Lewis (not just the fiction) on their own. This Summer, as college students, two of them are studying at Oxford. And both seem to be flourishing spiritually.
Start a lending library and/or book store in the youth area. Put speaking tapes, books on relevant topics, Christian music tapes, Christian novels and magazines on display. This keeps good reading before youth each time they enter the youth area. Ask your local Christian bookstore to give you their temporary book displays as new ones come in. Put a couple of organized youth in charge, developing a system of check-out cards, etc.
Think your youth are academically uninspirable? Check out the movie "Stand and Deliver," not for your youth, but for yourself. Based on a true story, a teacher inspires inner city kids to study advanced math, even motivating them to stay after school for more. Some are awarded scholarships to prestigious universities. If he could motivate kids to study calculus during their free time�.